Military Death

A Sailor’s Dying Wish

Today’s guest post is written by Jennie Haskamp:


After signing my Pop, EM2 Bud Cloud (circa Pearl Harbor) up for hospice care, the consolation prize I’d given him (for agreeing it was OK to die) was a trip to “visit the Navy in San Diego.”

I emailed my friend and former Marine sergeant, Mrs. Mandy McCammon, who’s currently serving as a Navy Public Affairs Officer, at midnight on 28 May. I asked Mandy if she had enough pull on any of the bases in San Diego to get me access for the day so I could give Bud, who served on USS Dewey (DD-349), a windshield tour.

The next day she sent me an email from the current USS Dewey (DDG 105)’s XO, CDR Mikael Rockstad, inviting us down to the ship two days later.

We linked up with Mandy outside Naval Base San Diego and carpooled to the pier where we were greeted by CMDCM Joe Grgetich and a squad-sized group of Sailors. Bud started to cry before the doors of the van opened. He’d been oohing and pointing at the cyclic rate as we approached the pier, but when we slowed down and Mandy said, “They’re all here for you, Bud,” he was overwhelmed.

After we were all out of the van directly in front of the Dewey, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, Petty Officer Simon introduced himself and said as the ship’s Sailor of the Year he had the honor of pushing Bud’s wheelchair for the day. Unbeknownst to us, they’d decided to host Budaboard the Dewey, not at the Dewey. And so they carried him aboard. None of us expected him to go aboard the ship. I’d told him we were going down to the base and would have the chance to meet and greet a few of the Sailors from the new Dewey. He was ecstatic. The day before, he asked every few hours if we were “still going down to visit the boys from the Dewey,” and “do they know I was on the Dewey, too?”

Once aboard, we were greeted by the CO, CDR Jake Douglas, the XO and a reinforced platoon-sized group of Sailors. To say it was overwhelming is an understatement. These men and women waited in line to introduce themselves to Bud. They shook his hand, asked for photos with him, and swapped stories. It was simply amazing.

They didn’t just talk to him, they listened.

Bud’s voice was little more than a weak whisper at this point and he’d tell a story and then GMC Eisman or GSCS Whynot would repeat it so all of the Sailors on deck could hear. In the midst of the conversations, Petty Officer Flores broke contact with the group. Bud was telling a story and CMDCM Grgetich was repeating the details when Flores walked back into view holding a huge photo of the original USS Dewey. That moment was priceless. Bud stopped mid-sentence and yelled, “There she is!” They patiently stood there holding the photo while he told them about her armament, described the way it listed after it was hit, and shared other details about the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Bud finally admitted how tired he was after more than an hour on deck. While they were finishing up goodbyes and taking last minute photographs, GMC Eisman asked if it’d be OK to bring Sailors up to visit Bud in a few months after a Chief’s board. I hadn’t said it yet because I didn’t want it to dampen the spirit of the day, but I quietly explained to GMC Eisman the reason we’d asked for the visit was simple: Bud was dying.

I told him they were welcome to come up any time they wanted, but I suspected Bud had about a month left to live. Almost without hesitation, he asked if the crew could provide the burial honors when the time came. I assured him that’d be an honor we’d welcome.

Leaving the ship was possibly more emotional than boarding.

They piped him ashore. CMDCM Grgetich leaned in and quietly told me how significant that honor was and who it’s usually reserved for as we headed towards the gangplank. Hearing “Electrician’s Mate Second Class William Bud Cloud, Pearl Harbor Survivor, departing” announced over the 1MC was surreal.

Later that night Bud sat in his recliner, hands full of ship’s coins and declared, “I don’t care what you do with my power tools; you better promise you’ll bury me with these.”

He died 13 days later. For 12 of those 13 days he talked about the Dewey, her Sailors and his visit to San Diego. Everyone who came to the house had to hear the story, see the photos, hold the coins, read the plaques.

True to his word, GMC Eisman arranged the details for a full honors burial. The ceremony was simple yet magnificent. And a perfect sendoff for an ornery old guy who never, ever stopped being proud to be a Sailor. After the funeral, the Sailors came back to the house for the reception and spent an hour with the family. This may seem like a small detail, but it’s another example of them going above and beyond the call of duty, and it meant more to the family than I can explain.

There are more photos, and I’m sure I missed a detail, or a name. What I didn’t miss and will never forget, is how unbelievable the men and women of the USS Dewey were. They opened their ship and their hearts and quite literally made a dream come true for a dying Sailor.

They provided the backdrop for “This is the best day of my life, daughter. I never in my whole life dreamed I’d step foot on the Dewey again or shake the hand of a real life Sailor.”

Without question, it’s the best example of Semper Fidelis I’ve ever seen.


Jennie Haskamp is a Marine Corps veteran. Follow Jennie’s personal blog HERE.  And to read a follow-up to the post you just read, click HERE.

“You Working on Memorial Day?”

I’ve been finding myself at local hospital morgues nearly every day for the past month and today was no different.  I parked my car behind the hospital in the little parking space that they have set aside for us funeral directors … a space where the dead are out of view from the living.  I backed up to the ramp, put my car in park, pulled out my stretcher, punched the passcode into the security lock and parked my stretcher in front of the morgue door.  From there, I took the long walk from the back of the hospital, through the halls and to the front, where I happened to pass the security guard.  Usually he’s in his office, but today I must have caught him returning from fulfilling one of his many duties.

“You’ll be seeing me in a moment”, I said as I pass him along the hall.  He’s responsible for opening the morgue and – if he’s feeling up for it — helping me with the transfer.

He’s about 35 years old.  Nice.  Professional guy.   Takes his job seriously.

He stops the conversation that he’s having with a pretty nurse, turns around and starts walking with me to the lab that holds the paper work I have to fill out to officially release the body from the care of the hospital.

“I’ll let the lab staff know that I’m aware you’re here so they don’t have to page me.”

He lets them know, and starts his walk back to the morgue while I fill out the necessary paper work for the release.

I walk back and he’s at the morgue door waiting for me.

“Do you want some gloves, sir?” he asks.

I’m 30 years old, but I look more like 25ish. He’s probably 35.  “Why would he call me ‘sir’?” I think to myself.  This honorific was so natural for him too  Pondering it a little more I suspect I know why, so I probe.

“You have the weekend off?”  I ask.

“Yup.” He replies.

“You working Memorial Day?”

“Nope.  Sittin at home, by myself, remembering.”

Feeling pretty confident that I’ve figured out why the whole “sir” thing was so natural for him, I ask my next question based on an assumption:  “Are most of your co-workers ex-military?”

“Yes, sir.”  He says.  “Our boss is ex-army and hires us veterans.”

I reply: “Going from military to security is probably an easy transition for you guys.”

“Not for me.  I was trained to take lives not save ‘em.”

At this point, the conversation moves from small talk to real talk.  He’s starting to get personal and I can tell he wants me to know who and what he is.

“I’m an ex-marine.  I was on the front lines of the first wave of infantry when we invaded Iraq.”

Out of the blue, without me probing, he say, “Lost some good fuckin friends.”  In the morgue, in the context of death, he felt comfortable enough to show his raw emotions.  It’s a sad testament to the difficulty of serving in the military when a young man of 35 feels this comfortable … this at home around death.

I lost a great uncle in World War II (who I obviously never knew), I lost a childhood friend in Iraq, but I’ve never served in the Military.  I’ve attended a hundred military funeral services, some at Military Cemeteries and a half dozen at Arlington Cemetery, but I’ve never lost a close friend.  My dad and cousin have blown taps for hundreds of veterans at their interment, but none of those veterans were my immediate family.

I know enough to know that while Memorial Day has significance for our nation, it doesn’t have the same significance for me as it does for this young man.

We pulled the body out of the morgue.  I looked him in the eyes as I draped the cover over the corpse lying on my stretcher and I asked “What are you doing on Monday?”  Tears started to well up in his eyes, so I pulled back any more questions.

He paused.  Gathered himself.  Looked at the ground and shook his head.  Years removed from war, his emotion was still raw, and he struggled to constrain it.

I knew what he was saying.  I’ve heard it said a thousand times.  No words, but enough to say what you’re feeling.

After he gathered himself, and I listened for a couple minutes, it was time for me to go.

He helped me down the ramp to my car.  I reached out my hand, shook his hand and said, “Thank you for your sacrifice.”

“I’d do it again”, he said.

This Memorial Day I’ll be remembering him as he sits in his house and remembers the ever haunting ghosts that will torment his life.  I will remember and memorialize the sacrifice this young man has given as he carries the burdens of those who passed before their time.

We should remember that military deaths can also take the lives of those left alive.

Just Keep Swimming

Today’s guest post is from Jessica Charles.  This from Jessica: I am Corporal Joshua Alexander Harton’s Big Sister. I am his sister and I protected him his whole life. That is until September 18th, 2010 when a bullet from Taliban’s rifle went through his neck, cutting his carotid artery, moving through his torso and destroying organs and finally leaving his body at the left hip and shattering his Kevlar armor. I am Josh’s sister and I need you to know that my little brother is dead and my epic life will never be the same again.


What is living with PTSD like?

Uh, it is like….ummm well, you know.

And then people think Rambo:First Blood or some recent tragedy where a returning soldier kills his ex wife and her boyfriend.

It is NOT like that.

It is a lot like Finding Nemo, the kids’ movie where a father crosses an improbable ocean to save his son learning lessons on the way.

Try and remember the movie and I will outline it as I go. This explanation should be so simple that even civilians can follow.

The movie starts with Mommy fish and Daddy fish (Pearl and Marlin) admiring their new home and envisioning the future life of their many children. Then tragedy strikes. A big fish eats the babies and the mommy fish defends them, she also dies (And I thought Bambi was bad).
One egg survives, and Marlin (dad of the year) promises that from this moment on “Nothing will ever happen” to his baby Nemo.

Marlin has PTSD. Marlin spends the next few years (or however long it takes in fish time) protecting his son from EVERYTHING, because in truth, the world is a scary place and it will kill you. And it would seem paranoid and crazy except that Marlin is often proven right.

His son dares to leave the safety zone and is kidnapped. Marlin follows and is almost devoured by sharks, blown up, eaten by a monster fish with a flashlight, lost, shocked by jellyfish and lost again only to be eaten by a whale. Life is bad, and that is the only lesson Marlin can learn because it is the lesson he already knows.

Dory his adorably absent minded buddy doesn’t have any preconceived lessons. She “just keeps swimming”. To Marlin she is an imbecile because everywhere they turn there is obvious danger. Danger is all Marlin can see. And he isn’t wrong, but as Dory teaches him, he isn’t entirely right.

If Marlin hadn’t tried to force Dory away from the sharks, well there would have been no bloody nose to insight the hungry beasts. If Marlin hadn’t been so rude to the school of fish, he would have gotten directions earlier and more completely and would have avoided the jelly fish all together. In Marlin’s haste to protect himself from the world he makes it a more dangerous place. That is what living with PTSD is like.

I have always had PTSD. I have always lived in a world that was scary and dangerous and I have never been good at seeing the world as a place of both danger and joy. Someone once said, “The war is over.” And with the intensity of someone who feels threatened, I screamed, “No sir, it is still going on”.

It is true, I am still at war, still in war and still protecting myself from the enemy. The enemy is the world and as Marlin learns not only can you not protect yourself or your beloved child from the world, you shouldn’t because as Dory says, ” Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo”.

Not much fun… yeah, fun, thriving versus surviving. Learning HOW to do that, instead of just over thinking every moment until you can plan for all foreseeable outcomes except the one where you may enjoy yourself.

So what is living with PTSD like? It is like Finding Nemo. And I hope everyone out there has a little blue buddy who can help them out, even if some days it is all you can do to just keep swimming.


You can visit Jessica’s blog at “Always His Sister.”  And you can follow her on Twitter.

Does Uncle Josh Love Me?

This week my blog is being taken over by Jessica Charles.  This from Jessica: I am Corporal Joshua Alexander Harton’s Big Sister. I am his sister and I protected him his whole life. That is until September 18th, 2010 when a bullet from Taliban’s rifle went through his neck, cutting his carotid artery, moving through his torso and destroying organs and finally leaving his body at the left hip and shattering his Kevlar armor. I am Josh’s sister and I need you to know that my little brother is dead and my epic life will never be the same again.


Sharing memories of a loved one to a child is a special thing. It can also be extremely difficult.

Once my son asked, “Why did Uncle Josh join the army?”. That is a normal question not just for a child to ask but for anyone.

I promised myself that I would tell my son the truth. I made that promise when I was given the news of Josh’s death. I would not hold back, I would be honest and simple but I would not lie. Uncle Josh died, he was shot, I don’t think it hurt, I don’t know the bad guy’s name.

Then a year later, ‘Why did Uncle Josh join the army?”. Well I knew why. Josh joined because he didn’t know what else to do. He enlisted because it was a job and someone had to do it, he knew he could do it well and then he could figure out the rest of his life later.

Is that what you tell a four year old, though? I didn’t think so. I told my son, “wait, I would think about it and I would get back to you.”

Then I whipped out my phone and madly texted my brother’s best friend. ‘He wants to know why Josh joined the army’.

Reply:”Because he was a loser at UPS and he wanted a better job”.

Me:”Duh, do you want  me to tell Nic that?”

Reply: “Tell him because he wanted to protect his country”

Me: “I said I wouldn’t lie!!!!!”
Very long pause as we both thought on what to do.

Me: “what about this: Uncle Josh didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up so he joined the army while he figured it out?”

Reply: “True, not the whole truth but it works”

Whew. Well that went over well. When he is older and knows a bit more about how confusing life is, I can elaborate.

Then what about this one: “Does Uncle Josh love me?”.

First, how am I supposed to answer that without a chaos of tears. Of course he loved you, he loved you so fiercely he hated to be near you in case he tainted you. How can I explain that? How can I explain all that to someone so small and precious?

‘Yes, Uncle Josh loved you. And there is something very special about love. Love never dies. When Josh and I were growing up we loved each other so much. We watched out for each other and we protected each other. And when I became a Mommy and he became an Uncle we took the love we started when we were little and we shared it with you. We both love you. The love grew. And now that you are a big brother, that same love, from Mommy to Uncle Josh, is now growing from You to your Sister. Isn’t that wonderful? So no matter what, no matter how much it hurts when someone we love dies, the love they had for us and the love we have for them never dies.”


You can visit Jessica’s blog at “Always His Sister.”  And you can follow her on Twitter.

Remembering the Dead

This week my blog is being taken over by Jessica Charles.  This from Jessica: I am Corporal Joshua Alexander Harton’s Big Sister. I am his sister and I protected him his whole life. That is until September 18th, 2010 when a bullet from Taliban’s rifle went through his neck, cutting his carotid artery, moving through his torso and destroying organs and finally leaving his body at the left hip and shattering his Kevlar armor. I am Josh’s sister and I need you to know that my little brother is dead and my epic life will never be the same again.


Today, my children and I went to the cemetery. There we met Veteran’s who were collecting old worn flags and replacing them with new ones on the graves of their fallen comrades. It was raining, the cemetery was old, the tombstones were often broken, illegible or were often a piece of flagstone with a flag marker next to it. My son had more fun then he has had all week.

Nicky sang to himself a little ditty, “American Flag, AAaamerican FLLLLAAAAGS!”. He waved Old Glory and brought the battered and tattered flags to me and I carried them in the stroller. We reported the names to a Vietnam Marine Veteran who checked the known names off a list. My daughter cooed and smiled at the old Veteran’s and tried to slurp rain water out of her stroller.

I enjoyed watching my kids being happy. I talked to Nicky about some of the names we read. One man had been a bugler, some in Korea like my grandfather, others in Vietnam like my father in law. There were many from the Civil War. There were many names we couldn’t read, whose head stones were broken and whose families no longer cared for the grave, for whatever reason.
But there were Veterans, walking up and down in the rain and taking down old flags, replacing with new ones and checking off names. No one left behind.

They asked me why I was there, I told them who I was: A Gold Star Sister. That answered that, and they thanked me for coming and bringing my children. I thanked them because they served my country before I was born.

But that didn’t really answer why I was there. I was there because one day, I hope that someone will still put a flag on my brother’s grave. One day I hope someone checks his name to make sure it is getting the honor he is due. I want someone to look at his date of birth and his date of death and do the math. To realize he died just short of turning 24 years old and he did so for his country.

Graves were surrounded by family members, and one day I will die and join my brother. And when I am gone who will bring a broom and dust of his grave, leave a stone to show someone still cared enough to visit and of course, to place a flag by his name? Will there be a an old soldier? One who fought long ago who comes by once a year to check on his brothers and sisters?

There will be someone, and maybe it will be a soldier, or maybe a soldier’s sister, who is afraid her brother will also be disregarded. Maybe a hundred years ago, a sister tucked her brother into the ground and hoped he would never be forgotten.

I will not forget, and I will teach my children the importance of remember the dead.


You can visit Jessica’s blog at “Always His Sister.”  And you can follow her on Twitter

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